In 2009, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a suit against a number of federal agencies that deal with intelligence gathering, requesting that they release documents and reports dealing with possible misbehavior of their employees. They argued that these reports – usually submitted to the Intelligence Oversight Board – should be accessible to the public.
Having won the suit, the EFF has compiled its own report by reviewing the nearly 2,500 pages of documents released by the FBI concerning intelligence investigations from 2001 to 2008, and the results are rather alarming.
Of the nearly 800 violations reported to the IOB, over one-third involved FBI violation of rules governing internal oversight of intelligence investigations: nearly one-third involved FBI abuse, misuse, or careless use of the Bureau’s National Security Letter authority; and almost one-fifth involved an FBI violation of the Constitution, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or other laws governing criminal investigations or intelligence gathering activities.
In nearly half of all NSL violations, third-parties to whom NSLs were issued — phone companies, internet service providers, financial institutions, and credit agencies — contributed in some way to the FBI’s unauthorized receipt of personal information.
Also, if has been found out that during these years, the FBI engaged in a number of flagrant legal violations such as submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas, and accessing password protected documents without a warrant.
Another worrying fact is that some two and a half years pass in average between the violation’s occurrence and its reporting to the IOB. This huge time gap makes the reporting almost useless and makes practically impossible any effective intelligence oversight by the IOB.
Taking into account that the FBI also frequently violated its own internal oversight protocols for national security and intelligence investigations, how can the people that are or will be subjected to an investigation by the FBI expect their civil liberties to be respected?
When all this is take into account, the EFF’s call for more transparency when it comes to the agencies’ and the Government’s actions seams reasonable enough. And, there is some hope of change.
“Congress, however, has an opportunity to remedy these abuses: portions of the USA PATRIOT Act expire in late February, and a bill has already been introduced in the House of Representatives to reauthorize it,” concludes the EFF.
“Instead of simply rubber-stamping the intelligence community’s continuing abuse of Americans’ civil liberties, Congress should seize this opportunity to investigate the practices of the FBI and other intelligence agencies, and to demand greater accountability, disclosure, and reporting from these agencies. Until then, the FBI’s pattern of misconduct will undoubtedly continue.”